Six million households could face blackouts this winter as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has emerged.
According to The Times, the government’s “reasonable” worst-case scenario – drawn up by officials across Whitehall – says there could be widespread gas shortages if Russia goes further in cutting off gas supplies to the European Union.
A minister said the briefing suggested that electricity could be rationed for up to six million homes at the start of next year, mostly at morning and evening peaks. The curbs could last for more than a month, once more causing energy prices to rocket.
In response, Kwasi Kwarteng – the business secretary – has written to the owners of the UK’s three remaining coal-fired power stations asking them to stay open fro longer than planned. They had been due to close in September under plans to reduce emissions.
In an even bleaker scenario, drawn up in the event Russia entirely cuts off gas to the EU, energy blackouts could start in December and last for three months – with blackouts on weekdays and weekends.
The worst-case scenario is believed to raise concerns that Norwegian imports of gas, on which Britain is reliant, could more than halve because of increased EU demand. Imports of liquefied natural gas, which are brought into the UK by tankers, could also be slashed in half because of greater competition.
A Whitehall source told The Times: “As a responsible government it is right that we plan for every single extreme scenario, however unlikely. Britain is well prepared for any supply disruptions.
“Unlike EU countries, our North Sea gas reserves are being pumped out at full pelt, Norwegian rigs are directly connected into the UK, and we have the second-largest LNG import infrastructure in Europe — whereas Germany has none. Given the EU’s historic dependence on Putin’s gas, the winter could be very hard for countries on the Continent.”
A Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson told the PA news agency the UK “has no issues with either gas or electricity supply, and the Government is fully prepared for any scenario, even those that are extreme and very unlikely to pass”.
“Thanks to a massive £90 billion investment in renewable energy in the last decade, we have one of the most reliable and diverse energy systems in the world,” the spokesperson added, “and unlike Europe, we are not dependent on Russian energy imports.”
Power station negotiation
A Government spokesperson told PA the request for the power stations in Drax, Ratcliffe and West Burton, which were due to shut in September, to stay open was made “in light” of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“It is only right that we explore a wide range of options to further bolster our energy security and domestic supply – bringing down costs in the long-term,” the spokesperson said.
“While there is no shortage of supply, we may need to make our remaining coal-fired power stations available to provide additional back-up electricity this coming winter if needed.
“It remains our firm commitment to end the use of coal power by October 2024.”